Joss Whedon on Crafts and Craftiness: Interview Transcript

This is a transcript of the recorded interview.

Kim Werker in her Jayne Cobb Hat  

Kim Werker: Ok. We're recording now and I'm here with Joss Whedon. I'm Kim Werker from So, Joss, Captain Hammer—four sweater vests, really?

Joss Whedon: Yeah. Well, four, you know, in that, I mean, he actually has quite a collection.

[Confusion as I interrupt.]

JW: Just four at that particular time. He has more than that, obviously. No man can live with only four sweater vests.

KW: So, the crafty community is dying to know: Are those sweater vests knitted or crocheted?

JW: Well. Ok. So this is where we get to the tough questions.

KW: Yeah.

JW: I'm aware of the desperate rivalry between the knitters and the crocheters. And, you know, first of all I have to say: can't there be peace?

KW: I agree.

JW: It's an age-old war. Like the werewolves and the vampires. I think Underworld was actually originally about crocheters and knitters but they thought it would be too controversial so they changed it to vampires and werewolves. Um, most of them are sadly knitted. However he does have one crocheted, but he did it himself, and it doesn't go very well.

KW: Doesn't go very well, eh?

JW: It tends to come apart. It's not his best effort.

KW: Well, send him our way and we'll help him bone up on his skills.

JW: Good, good.

KW: So, are you a crafty guy, other than with words?

JW: I'm crafty in the sense that I'm duplicitous and evil. But not so much in the sense— I used to knit and crochet. I walked on both sides of that [muffled]. And when I was a kid, because my mom did. But I haven't picked up any needles in a long while except to stab people. My wife does. My wife rocks some seriously crocheting. She started out— she was already a knitter but she started out crocheting hats for a friend who was actually in chemo and suddenly needed a lot of hats. And then, she just sort of went wild with it. She knitted a turtle, and scarves, and a guitar strap for our son. She's pretty fierce.

KW: That's great. Well, we like to think of ourselves as fierce. Did your mom teach you how to knit or crochet when you were a kid?

JW: Yeah.

KW: Were you about eight years old?

JW: I think I was a little bit older than that. I was probably like around twelve, I would say. But my memory for dates is well— obviously I was born with fully-formed grown-up intelligence, so it all sort of blends together for me.

KW: Yeah, but the motor skills often come after, so.

JW: Yes, I'm still waiting on some.

KW: There was a really significant, like, handmade or crafty element in the sets, especially of Buffy. Were you involved with that or was that something that the costume designers and set designers did?

JW: That was more them. The crafty part was more– for me was more Firefly. Because in Firefly we were really trying to evoke the idea of things you make for yourself, of a life that you create with your own two hands. It was all very pioneer spirit, and so it ended up just looking really '70s in the decor, which was not exactly the original intent, but that said, that was very deliberate. On something like Buffy it just sort of came to be. I think people tend to fall back on it, you know, to represent something comforting and homey and good. Like, good people in movies and TV have things that are, you know—obviously not sweater vests—but, they have things that are wooly and handmade and very sort of earthy, and evil people live in cold, steel, modernist houses, you know, and wear shiny suits. It's sort of inevitable.

KW: So, speaking of Firefly, you wrote, with Tim Minear, knitters' and crocheters' favourite episode, The Message, when Jayne gets that knitted hat.

JW: Ah, the knitted hat.

KW: Yeah. Certainly there was that element of homeyness and it really brought a lot of humanity to his character to receive that hat. Did you have any idea that that hat would become so iconic?

JW: I did not. I did not. My whole thought was that Jayne was your classic bad-guy mercenary type, and I thought this is the one guy who does not have a tortured past, who has a decent, hard-working family, who just, you know, this was his career choice and the idea of him getting a letter from mom that he struggles to read, and the knitted hat, was— it just felt so right. It felt very, very him and very human and then of course I saw the hat with its flaps and its pom pom, and I just couldn't have been happier.

KW: Was it made—

JW: It was made, I believe, for the role, but I could be totally wrong about that. They might've found it somewhere and claimed to make it. I should ask Shawna Trpcic, our costumer, she would know.

KW: And have you seen them around? I know a lot of people who went to ComicCon this past summer made some.

JW: Oh, I see them constantly. And it fills me with tiny knitted joy.

KW: Looking ahead to Dollhouse, which sort of, from the trailers we've seen, has a bit of a slick look, should crafters be looking forward to any sort of things that will inspire their hands to make something?

JW: Hard to say. The, you know, the operation's very sleek, but at the same time, the world they live in is very spa-like, Eastern, and yoga-matty. So, there may be touches in there. I mean it's a little more wicker than actual loom-work. But we were going for a very natural, earthy environment for them inside of a kind of a laboratory feeling. So it's working across surfaces. The viewer will see a little of them in there. I doubt we'll find anything as iconic as the Jayne hat. I can convince Eliza [Dushku] to do a lot of things but that might not be one of them.

KW: No? But maybe she'll knit or crochet or decoupage in one of the episodes?

JW: Obviously decoupaging is too racy for Fox. So, I mean, they couldn't allow that.

KW: There's whoops and cheers from decoupagers everywhere now.

JW: It's just Standards and Practices, they draw the line at this kind of thing.

KW: We'll let the basket-makers know that they should look ahead to some good wicker.

JW: Yes, I think they're going to be both pleased and frightened.

KW: So, right after, as Dr. Horrible hit the internet tubewaves, people started crafting almost immediately. There were people who made their own Wonderflonium boxes and crocheted Dr. Horrible dolls. Did you see that happen as Dr. Horrible came out?

JW: I think I saw a crocheted Dr. Horrible [muffled]. I'm not wrong about this, am I? You know, anything that inspires people to make their own little version of something be it puppety, be it crafty, be it a high school production of lip syncing, whatever it is, it's the best kind of review you could ever get for any works. It's just cool. I always want things to become plush.

KW: When can we look forward to the DVDs coming out?

JW: We can look forward to the DVD very soon. It should be available on the internet for pre-order before Thanksgiving and definitely for ordering in time for Christmas, oh yeah.

KW: Excellent. That's really great. We love—

JW: You're not fooled.

KW: No.

JW: One of us isn't fooled, but I can't [muffled]

KW: So, crafty people often feel like they have to let their materials behave and become what they want to be, even if it's not what we had in mind to begin with. Do you feel that's somewhat similar sometimes in how you write characters and plot lines?

JW: You're going to need to meet the materials halfway. Yes, you definitely want every skein of yarn to do exactly what you have in mind, but they never will. And that's part of what makes it beautiful. That's part of what makes it not working in a factory. And every actor is going to bring something to the party, and I'm going to embrace what they're bringing as fucking hard as I can as long as it doesn't hurt the narrative, so that it becomes something more than just an idea I had that somebody acted out. You have to remember that if the thing isn't slightly out of control, it ain't art. Or [muffled] craft.

KW: What do you see as the difference between arts and craft, or do you?

JW: Honestly, it really is that little chaos factor. It's when the thing starts talking back to you. When you come up with something that is a little bit more than just a good reproduction of what was in the book, and somehow reflects you in a way that you didn't understand yourself: that's art. If you just manage to reproduce something skillfully as a craft—and it's a beautiful thing and I wish I was better at it—but that's where I [mumbled] for me.

KW: I read a quote recently, in an article about the resurging DIY movement, that we're "crafting to claim identity, to save the world from soulless junk." Do you see any parallels in people's approach to internet-based video productions versus the big-media productions for television and movies and how people are really taking those media into their own hands right now?

JW: Absolutely. I mean, let's face it, in the media there are now eight companies. In any mall you walk into, there are now eight stores: there's gonna be a Gap, there's gonna be a Banana Republic. Everything is becoming consolidated, so where there used to be lots of variety, there are now, like, ten giants and tons of tiny little villagers. And yeah, the villagers are going to start making their own stuff because the materials will be available to all of them, and we can't all just do things the way the giants want, because it does seep something out of your soul. I think it's absolutely true on every level of art that this is the worst of times and, like some guy might have said once, the best of times.

KW: Do you think, as those eight companies start to really focus on producing online content, do you think the indie vibe, the people who are out to be very creative on their own terms will persist in that atmosphere?

JW: I'm sorry, say that again please?

KW: No worries. As—

JW: I thought you said, "No way!"

KW: [Laughs.] No worries. As those eight companies start to focus their energy into putting content online and possibly—we imagine—to produce it specifically for online distribution, do you think the independently minded people who are right now making content for online distribution will continue? Will they be crowded out?

JW: Well, it's a pretty big place to be crowded out of. But if the companies can figure out a way, they will. I mean, they exist by virtue of controlling. Not creating, controlling. And therefore, they will always try to find a way to make sure that nobody else can do what they do. On the other hand, we are now in a situation where everybody can do what they do. And they don't have that control, which frightens and offends them. So, I will always give them credit for trying to find a way to steal Christmas, but this time they might not be able to. There's always been an independent side to the industry. And for this particular medium, I think it's going to be a lot harder for them to crush it. But they'll try.

KW: Do you have advice for people in the face of other people trying to crush them?

JW: Well, you know, at the end of the day right now, you can create something; what you can't usually do is make a fortune off of it. But if we're talking about the sort of people who are actually checking a crocheting website, we're talking about the sort of people who understand that part of what we're doing is in the process. That it's not about, "I'm going to crochet the most hats! I'm going to be the fastest! I'm going to be the most [mumbled] millionaire without enjoying the process and the product." Ultimately, the artistic expression can't be squelched; it's just they'll try to cut off any avenues for that expression to be, shall we say, monetized in a realistic fashion. Like I'm saying, the sort of people who understand the DIY mentality are more about the doing than the having. So I think that ultimately, my advice is what my advice always is: Make stuff. You know. Right now, because of digital technology, you can make crafty little movies, you can make crafty little things that go up for millions of people to see. You can sort of combine the two ethos-ethoses-ethosees… And grab a video camera, tell a story. Be stupid, be something, just … It is no longer the time of sitting around and thinking about doing something. If you're going to do that, you can, you know, crochet, and you're already doing it.

KW: Knitting and crochet are crafts with really strong, obviously, roots in women's history, and there's a really great feminist component to the resurgence right now. Does that surprise you in any way?

JW: No, I mean, those things have always been connected. My wife is also a quilter, and that has as much to do with a very strong portion of society as it does with making a warm blanket. These crafts, they represent pockets of interaction that an underclass has always used to gather and to strengthen each other and to… what's going on in their communities. So it makes perfect sense that these things would still be connected.

KW: There were a huge number of people in the online crafts community who helped to spread the word as we were trying to get your attention for this interview. How did you end up finding out about us?

JW: You know, I do know that I read something on the internet before my assistant said, "I got the weirdest call." You know, I had made a completely random joke about media attention— but then nothing perfectly random, is it? Every now and then I'd peek around the corner and there'd be somebody going, "How's that crocheting thing?" And I was like, "I gotta learn to shut up." I was psyched; I was like, "That's right. These people will finally ask me something different."

KW: It was pretty great. There were a ton of people who blogged about this, and then somebody knew someone who knew someone, and I love the fact that you found out about it before the people who knew someone who knew someone were able to contact your assistant. That makes my heart sing.

JW: No, it was out there pretty early on. I apologize for taking so long, but if you knew me you would not be surprised.

KW: I wasn't surprised, because I know kind of the things you're involved with. I'm thrilled you took the time at all this morning — thank you.

JW: You're welcome.

KW: I've got one final question for you.

JW: Alright.

KW: Do you have a favourite handmade gift you've either given or received, or both? Not that they would be the same gift.

JW: It wasn't given to me, but when my son was born, actually, Eliza, a few years ago, gave him a Bishop Tutu doll, which she had gotten in South Africa. It's really cool. He has little glasses, and every now and then Bishop Tutu will suddenly show up again, hanging out with whatever they're playing with. So, I thought that was pretty nifty.

KW: That is pretty great. Joss Whedon, thank you so much for talking with us today.

JW: Thank you. Oh!

KW: Yeah?

JW: You know what?

KW: What?

JW: I've got one other. Dichen. Dichen Lachman is Sierra on our show.

KW: Yeah?

JW: On Dollhouse. Her mother sent me—it's not actually very crafty, because it's just a string with a knot in it, but the string was blessed by the Dalai Lama, and one of his monks tied the knot. She sent it to me as a present of good will because I work at Fox—I mean, in Hollywood. It doesn't really qualify as a craft, tying one knot in it, tying it around my wrist to make a bracelet, but I love it [muffled].

KW: That's great. I think the love makes it a craft that is special.

JW: There you go.

KW: Great. Thank you so much. Take care and good luck to you.

JW: Thank you. You too.

KW: Thanks.

JW: Bye.

KW: Bye.

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